Before the Komets took to the ice Monday night for the first practice of training camp, the players milled about at Memorial Coliseum getting to know one other. The roster of 24 players includes only six from last season – Matthew Boudens, Anthony Petruzzelli, Oliver Cooper, Blake Siebenaler, Marcus McIvor and Stefanos Lekkas – so the Komets are retooling as they look to defend the Kelly Cup.
“We want to establish what we're all about here in Fort Wayne and most guys have an idea, after signing with us throughout the summer and talking with (coach Ben Boudreau, assistant Olivier Legault and general manager David Franke),” Boudens said. “I think everyone kind of knows what we're all about here, obviously, with the success we had last season.
“That's something we want to build on. It's a new (season) and we're looking to the future, but we want to defend that Cup and I think we've got a good group of guys here, a good group of hockey players, too.”
Siebenaler and Tyler Busch were absent, as they continue to try to make the roster of the higher-level American Hockey League's Henderson Silver Knights, and more players could trickle in from AHL teams before the Komets' first preseason game Friday against the Wheeling Nailers in Wheeling, West Virginia.
“This will be the first time, in my experience, where I open the season on a winning streak,” said Boudreau, whose team completed a 3-1 series victory for the Cup over South Carolina on July 2. “There's a mark that's going to be on your back and that's a whole different ballgame when you enter into the season.
“So just from the perspective that we're the defending champions and there's that big element going into the hockey season, it makes for a little bit more of an exciting year knowing that we were crowned the winner of last season.”
Expectations are high because of the Cup victory, but there's also cognizance that the ECHL had only 14 teams last season because of the pandemic and will have 28 this season, and that the Komets have an almost entirely new cast of characters.
The team has tried to build from the back end out and is confident in its goaltenders, Lekkas and rookie Samuel Harvey, who played seven games last season with the AHL's San Jose Barracuda as a rookie from the University of New Brunswick. Another goalie could arrive from the Vegas Golden Knights.
“I'm really excited about this season,” said Harvey, who joins other former UNB players Boudens, Cooper and McIvor. “When I talked to the coaches and players this summer, they said such good things about the organization and that's why I wanted to come here. So, I'm just really excited and happy to be here.”
The defensive corps has six players 6-foot-2 or taller, capped by 6-5 Corbin Baldwin and Josh Owings.
“We had our opening team meeting last night and every single defenseman I ended up shaking hands with, my neck was looking up to the ceiling because of how big they all are,” said the 5-10 Boudreau.
Offensively, the Komets are banking on twins Connor and Kellen Jones, Drake Rymsha and rookie Shawn Boudrias to ably fill the void left by players such as Brandon Hawkins, Alan Lyszczarczyk and Anthony Nellis.
A big question coming into Monday was how the Komets would handle having five players of veteran status (Baldwin, the Joneses, Jameson Milam and Zach Tolkinen), one more than they can play in games. But Boudreau revealed Baldwin won't be available for the Oct. 23 season opener vs. Wheeling at the Coliseum.
“He suffered an injury in the offseason while doing his training. So we know Corbin is not going to be available and that solves its own issue and we'll just take it day by day from there,” Boudreau said. “We're going to keep Corbin around and make sure he gets healthy, and when eventually he does we'll have to make a decision at that point.”